Kinetic Half Ironman Race Plan

Two years ago next month - which feels so long ago I did the math three times - I started training for my first half Ironman. After a couple years of sprint and Olympic triathlons, I felt ready to take the leap to a 70.3, but scared out of my mind at the same time! The weekend before my training plan kicked off, I went to Wanderlust and was fortunate enough to take a class with Sage Rountree. I had heard of Sage previously (I purchased her Yoga for Runners book around the time I ran my first half marathon), but after taking a class with her I found out she is actually an endurance sports coach and Ironman triathlete. At the end of my half Ironman training that summer after I took her class, I started reading Racing Wisely, a comprehensive deep dive into racing, from choosing the right race to what to do after you cross the finish line. The information and thought exercises in the book really helped put me at ease during those last few weeks before my biggest endurance race ever, and I particularly liked the idea of developing a race plan (the Race Week Worksheet available fo free in PFD format on her website). This worksheet breaks down all of the key components of race day, mental and physical, to hopefully ensure preparedness for any situation that might arise. The best thing about making a plan like this is that it's completely customizable and adaptable to any race at any distance - I really can't recommend it enough all athletes gearing up for a goal race, regardless of what that goal is. 

Although I've thought about it many times, I haven't actually written out a race plan since I first made one for my first 70.3, Beach2Battleship in October 2015. There are some components I've chosen not to write out this time, like nutrition and gear (just for the sake of anyone reading), but given that it was such a beneficial exercise for me the first time, I wanted to revisit the idea of a race plan as I gear up for my 3rd half Ironman this weekend!
All direct quotes from Racing Wisely are in italics.

Intention is internal and private. Intentions are philosophical. Your intention is the attitude you are bringing to the race. 
It wasn't until I started writing this that I realized how much has changed in the 19 months since the last time I wrote a race plan, the first one I wrote, for my first 70.3 Although I knew deep down I could finish the race, that was my intention for the race. There were so many uncertainties, so many things I just couldn't anticipate, and I just wanted to do my best and to finish. This time, I don't want to jinx myself, but I know I can finish. I've done it twice before. I've even completed twice as long of a swim and run. My intention for the Kinetic Half Ironman is to prove my strength. In the year and a half since my first 70.3, I've fearlessly taken on more and bigger challenges, and my intention for this race is to celebrate the strength I've found in doing so. Sage encourages boiling your intention down to a short phrase that can be repeated on race day and, this time, the first thing that came to mind is the instant classic, "Nevertheless, she persisted."

Goals are quantifiable, measurable, external, and public. Goals are useful in helping us control all the things we can control as we prepare to race: out training, our nutrition, our equipment, our pacing. Goals are practical.

My first half Ironman was on a flat course (even the swim was completely with the current!) on a beautiful day. I had the most perfect race conditions I could have ever dreamed of. The second time around was also on a fast, flat course, but on an unseasonably warm September day with temperatures in the high 80s. This time around, I have a hilly course and what looks like it's going to be a rainy, chilly day. Given that, and that my training hasn't been as focused or as intense as it's been in the past, beating my 5:52 PR is the last thing on my mind, but I still have an idea of how I hope my time shakes out!

Conservative goal: 6 hours 25 minutes
It's so hard to judge since I've only done two 70.3s under much different conditions than what Saturday is shaping up to be, but I do think that even if it's not my best day, I can finish in 6 hours 25 minutes or less. To do so I will most likely need to end up with a 45 minute swim (2:08/100yd) + 3 hours 15 minute bike (17.2mph) + 2 hour 15 minute run (10:18 min/mi) + 10 minutes for transition. My biggest goal here is to beat my previous worst bike split (from a miserably windy day at IMNC) of 3:17 (17mph). And I truly can't even remember the last time I ran a 2:15 half marathon, but after a hilly bike ride and with hills on the run to contend with as well, I'm prepared for anything.

Public goal (what you'll tell friends and coworkers): 6 hours 10 minutes. 
On a decent day I'm thinking I can at leat pull off a 42-minute swim (1:59/100yd) + 3 hour 12 minute bike (17.5mph) + 2 hour 10 minute run (9:55 min/mi) + 6 minutes for transition. I'm nervous about my ability to swim a decent pace for all 1.2 miles, since my swims this season have all been interval practice, but I would really like to at least break 2:00/100yd. And I biked the course a few weeks ago and averaged 17.5mph, so I at least know I can do that. 

Private goal: 6 hours
This is a bit of a stretch, but if I have a particularly good day where all the stars align, I think I can finish in 6 hours (give or take). That puts me at roughly a 39 minute swim (1:50/100yd) + 3 hours 7 minute bike (18mph) + 2 hour 5 minute run (9:41 min/mi) + 9 minutes for transition. This swim pace is something I do think I'm capable of, as long as I can keep my composure for the duration of the swim. I would love to sneak in at 2:05 or under on the run - but then again, I'm not even confident I could do that in a standalone half marathon right now! Here's to hoping the race day magic kicks in, regardless of what the weather is doing.

Super-secret radical goal: I actually don't have a specific super reach goal beyond 6 hours, so I'm not keeping anything super secret here! I would love to come in under 6 hours, and if I'm able to do that on this course, I'll be beyond ecstatic even if my time is 5:59:59. This isn't a goal race for me so much as it is a fun race with friends and a jumpstart for Ironman training, so anything better than the goals I've already shared would be a very pleasant surprise.

Non-time goals: When I wrote my 70.3 race plan in 2015, that was the first time I had ever sat down to think about my non-time goals for a race. Since that first time putting pen to paper (er, fingers to keyboard?) these have stayed the same for all of my races! Even if I haven't taken the time to write out a complete race plan since then, I've still at least kept these in the back of my mind: Remember to pack all of my gear. Put my timing chip on right away so I don't lose it. Bring toilet paper for the porta-potties. Remember to follow my nutrition plan and stay hydrated. Clip in and out of my bike without falling. Don't fall apart on the run. Smile at race photographers. Thank volunteers. Finish with a smile on my face. And a new addition for 2017: Don't get injured!

The plan:
  • Swim: My plan for the swim is to not get too caught up in the excitement and chaos of the beginning, and to settle in as early as possible. I haven't swam in open water at all this season so that alone is going to be a challenge! I also want to try to remember the techniques I've learned from my swim group, especially making sure that I lift my arms all the way out of the water and, if I'm brave enough, breathing to both sides. 
  • Bike: The biggest concern for this course is to not burn out my legs on the hills. Although I've gotten in some solid hill practice over the last 6 weeks or so, I'm still not totally confident in my ability to judge hills, and I never really know if I'm taking them too fast or too slow. It will be a learning experience, for sure, but my strategy is to err on the side of caution and take them too slow rather than too fast.
  • Run: My pacing strategy this time is honestly just to run whatever feels comfortable! The course is a 3 loops and features a pretty sizeable hill in the first quarter mile, so my first priority will be to get through that without dying. My short (3-5 mile) brick runs have generally gone well, but I don't want to burn out too quickly and pay for it in the end. Nice, even splits would be good!

How I'll hold myself accountable to this plan: I want to remind myself first and foremost that I am supposed to be having fun. My pacing strategy is a little on the conservative side so that I'm able to accomplish my goal of doing well while having fun at the same time, so reminding myself of that will be key. I also need to keep my eye on the prize; this is not my goal race for the reason, but just another stepping stone on the way to Ironman Louisville. That's going to help me dig deep when I need to, but also recognize that there's nothing this weekend that's worth ruining my race experience, getting injured, etc. for. 

If my equipment doesn’t work: This is probably one of the few, or maybe even first, races when this might not actually bother me! This is my first time racing (in a tri at least) with a Garmin I got in November, so we'll see how it does.

How and when I will warm up to best execute this plan: To be honest, my pre-race routine will probably include rereading this post (and possibly some old race recaps)! That seems to help get me in the zone. 

Mental Strategies
Three workouts from this training cycle in which I learned something about my mental and physical abilities:

1. Swim: My second YTri swim - Although I feel like my swim training this season hasn't been up to par in terms of distance, it's certainly much faster than usual and that's because I joined a swim group this season. During our second practice - which was also my second time ever swimming with a group - I accidentally joined the fast lane (I didn't know there was a difference between the two lanes, but I do now!) and struggled so much I seriously thought about jumping out of the pool, running away, and never coming back. I didn't want to disrupt anyone else's swim or look like I didn't know what I was doing and it was SO embarrassing - but looking back, it's the one swim I think will help me on race day. I'm out of practice in open water and in long distance swimming in general, and I'm sure there will at least be one point (there always is, even when I feel properly trained) when I wonder if I can keep going. In that moment, I just want to be able to remind myself that I've been in over my head before and made it through, and if I can do it once, I can do it again.

2. Bike: Skyline Drive Ride. Funny enough, when I was training for my first half Ironman I signed up for a bike ride that ended up including a 3-mile climb up a mountain into West Virginia - a fact I didn't know when I signed up. It was the hardest thing I had ever done in my life, but it ended up being a turning point, especially since the bike has always been my weakness. This training cycle, I found myself voluntarily, even excitedly, agreeing to go on harder mountain bike rides - and loving it! I felt so strong afterward and ready to accomplish anything. It felt like I put my fears to bed one climb at a time. 

3. Run: Shamrock Marathon - It's not really fair to count running a marathon as part of half Ironman training (given that that's not usually a part of half Ironman training...none that I know of at least), but that's how things shook out for me. Not only do the training, the pacing, and the mental engagement of Shamrock stick out in my mind as positive influences on my race this weekend, but the fact that I did it in the cold and rain needs to be mentioned too - especially since this weekend's weather may end up being similar. I've only ever done a sprint tri in the rain, so spending 6+ hours in it seems a little daunting, but if I could PR and meet my sub-4 marathon goal in freezing rain, sleet, and 20mph winds, I can handle this half Ironman.

Fears about the race, and how I plan to cope should they materialize (“in my control” or “out of my control”):

In  my control:
  • Getting ahead of myself on the swim - I need to focus on breathing, especially if I feel myself starting to get worked up. If I'm struggling in the swim it's my own fault, and I just need to back it down and get it together.
  • Giving up on the run - This is something I've never really learned to cope with, whether it happens in a 5k or a marathon. I'm worried I'm going to get to that 3rd lap of the run course and just be done with all of it and start having a pity party. The only thing I can do if that happens is to remind myself that walking is only going to prolong my suffering. "Relentless forward progress" is my motto in this situation.

  • Out of my control:

  • Cold and/or rain (both of which are likely)- alternate between thinking about what a badass I was at Shamrock, and daydreaming about warmer days!
  • Any portion of the course getting cut short or canceled - It makes me sad to even have to include this, but if last season taught me anything, it's that you unfortunately can't count on the race going on as planned. After three full tri seasons without any course alterations whatsoever, last year I had 3 of races in a row (in a season when I only did 4 total) have a portion of the race get cut short or canceled. These changes happened anywhere from 4 days in advance to the swim course getting cut in half when I was already in the water swimming. I'm hopeful that this season starts off on the right foot, that this race goes as planned and that so do my other races this year, but I can't pretend that I don't have some anxiety about whether or not that will actually happen. Ultimately there's nothing I can do about it, though - all I can do is race whatever distance I'm given to the best of my ability.

  • I have mixed feelings about what my expectations are for this race, and I'm not thrilled with the weather forecast, but I'm excited to get it done. This race falls a year and a day after I got cleared to start running again after 2 months off for an injury last year, and when things get really tough, I hope I remember that. This time last year I was finally allowed to try running for 15 minutes at a time, and even that was spotty. I couldn't have completed a sprint tri this time a year ago, so to have been able to complete a half Ironman, an Ironman, several half marathons, a marathon, and now another half Ironman in that time is just amazing to me. Here's to a happy, successful, and injury-free race day!


    1. i can't believe it's been 2 years since you started training for your first half. feels like last year, max.
      "Nevertheless, she persisted." - yes. you go girl. i love this so much.
      i hope you meet your goals :) can't wait to hear all about it.
      i hope the weather is magically totally fine, and i hope this is a super fun race!

    2. Laying it out on paper is incredible. Sending you wishes for fabulous race day.

    3. Good luck!!! Yup, can't do anything about the weather, just have to roll with the punches! I know you said you don't think your training has been up to par with prior years but it sounds like you've been doing a lot of hard work this year - I'm sure it will pay off!

      I may have to steal this post format for my future goal races - so thorough!

    4. This is such a smart idea! I should do a race plan like this before the Chicago Marathon this fall.

      GOOD LUCK this weekend!! I'll be cheering for you from Chicago!